JACQUES FOCCART, the architect of France's African policy for nearly four decades, died in Paris yesterday morning at the age of 83.
"It is only fitting that the fall of the Zairean city of Kisangani, the expected fall of [the Zairean dictator] Mobutu and the death of Jacques Foccart should occur all at the same time," commented the writer Pierre Penn. "It marks the end of an era." Penn's 1990 biography of Mr Foccart, The Man in the Shadows, strengthened his reputation as one of the most mysterious and powerful men in the Fifth Republic.
Until his death yesterday, Mr Foccart was France's chief interlocutor with Marshal Mobutu Sese Seko. When Mr Jacques Chirac became President in 1995, he made "Monsieur Afrique" his personal representative for Africa two of Mr Foccart's protege's received the key posts of presidential adviser for Africa and minister of co operation.
Although he suffered from heart disease and worked from his Paris home, Mr Foccart continued to incarnate the paternalism, neo colonialist French policy derided as l'Afrique de Papa. The African heads of state he had promoted, humoured and kept in power were in constant touch with him. Those still in power include Mr Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo, Mr Omar Bongo in Gabon and Mr Paul Biya in Cameroun.
Mr Foccart first met Gen Charles de Gaulle during the second World War, when he joined the resistance against the Nazi occupation as an intelligence officer. After the war, his import export company traded in Africa, and during de Gaulle's "wilderness years" (1946-1958) Mr Foccart travelled with him, introducing him to the African elites who would rule after decolonisation.
Later, from his office at the Elysee presidential palace, Mr Foccart constructed the intelligence networks that have propped up rulers in former French African colonies. He was closest to presidents de Gaulle, Pompidou and Chirac, but his behind the scenes involvement in Africa continued even when he was sidelined by presidents Giscard and Mitterrand. But Mr Chirac is said to have telephoned Mr Foccart almost every day.
France still has some 8,200 troops permanently stationed in six African states. Government sources say the numbers will be reduced but no bases are likely to be closed under a reform of the armed forces ordered by Mr Chirac.